CEOs in Schools: Making a Difference

Foster Elementary School

Jerry Telson, Chief Operating Officer at Sweetheart Ice Cream, first heard about the CEOs in Schools program during a CEO Council of Tampa Bay meeting from HEF’s CEO Kim Jowell. He never imagined how volunteering to spend a day in a public elementary school would turn into a year-round, mutually beneficial relationship for him and the Foster Elementary School community.

“I had no idea about the concept of a Community School—supporting the entire family with a food pantry, laundry facilities and a clothing store. I’ve learned if you create a better environment at home, where parents are involved in education, hopefully you’ll have better outcomes for the students. We all have different resources and can help in different ways. I asked, ‘How can I help?’”

Jerry made the commitment to visit the school once a month to be involved—through a lunch & learn, reading to a class or providing an ice cream treat. One of the needs that surfaced was noise canceling headphones for special needs students. He reached out to a business connection who agreed to donate a dozen headsets.

“That resonated with me. When the special needs students were working on reading or writing online, without the noise canceling headsets, they’d be distracted. Now they have much more focus, which we hope will ultimately improve learning and their grades.”

Recently, Jerry attended a school boundary change meeting to support the school, he and Principal Antonio Smith have become friends and enjoy exchanging texts on holidays, and Jerry hopes to be a resource for teachers who have classroom needs.

“The network and friendships that have come out of this program has been a plus. If staff members reach out to me ten times and five times I can come through, think of the difference that can make.”

Shore Elementary Magnet School

As a father of two, Michael Blasco, the CEO of Tampa Bay Food Trucks knows the importance of supporting public education. When CEOs in Schools Founder and Vistra CEO, Brian Butler, told him about the program in partnership with Hillsborough Education Foundation and Hillsborough County Public Schools, he wanted to be part of it. Michael signed up to be paired with Shore Elementary Magnet this school year.

“It’s important to get involved in our schools because students are our future workforce, the future of the city and the future of the region. If I can help put kids in a better position to learn and have a good outcome in our public schools, then we’re going to be better off as a region.”

During Michael’s visit to the school in November, he had the opportunity to experience the challenges and opportunities facing students, staff and administrators every day. He visited classrooms, read to the youngest learners in Pre-K, spent time on lunch duty and was introduced to the morning show—where he saw there was a need for higher-quality televisions in the classrooms.

“It’s funny, I’m somewhat anti-tv with kids, but in this case, it’s how they start their day and how they know what’s going on with fellow students. I saw how excited the kids were and felt a better picture would engage them more.”

Michael wanted to help and donated 40 televisions to the school. Not only can the students watch the morning announcements, but teachers can also connect their computers to use the tvs for lessons. He says his experience with CEOs in Schools is providing a new perspective on public education.

“To be on the other side of it as a parent to see the challenges a school goes through, it’s refreshing to know there are people who pour themselves into our kids every day.”

Michael stays in touch with Principal Cheri Bollinger and plans to bring a food truck to the school in May to help celebrate the staff during Teacher Appreciation Week.

We are always looking for more CEOs and senior-level executives to volunteer for CEOs in Schools. If you are interested, please email Zarna Patel or call (813) 574-0279.